x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Mark Webber's broad sporting oeuvre

The Australian F1 driver has put last behind him, and tells Paul Radley about the help he got from his compatriots

Mark Webber, a fan of sport, believes fixing, that occured in cricket, could not happen in F1 , becuase it is too unpredictable.
Mark Webber, a fan of sport, believes fixing, that occured in cricket, could not happen in F1 , becuase it is too unpredictable.

If Mark Webber had a dirham for every time he is asked if he is haunted by last year's race around Yas, he would probably have enough to pay off his old debt to David Campese, the Australian rugby great, again, and still have change to buy a yacht to moor in the marina.

It does not help when everyone else wants to remind him about it all the time. David Coulthard, Webber's former teammate, was quoted this week as saying the Australian driver must be psychologically scarred by the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix of 12 months ago. Thanks, pal!

If he is, then he is hiding it well. "Obviously, it is pretty topical," Webber said. "Everyone wants to talk about last year, because we are back at Abu Dhabi again.

"We have to do a better job this year. As a sportsman you have to get up and go again."

Finishing eighth in the capital last year, and thus letting slip his chance to become world champion was a significant blow, no doubt.

The hangover has apparently lasted for much of this season, but Webber has been able to maintain a perspective on it. Life could be a lot worse.

Not so long ago, it was. When Webber was struggling to pay the bills, as a driver in the British Formula Three championship back in 1997, he had to lean on Campese, the former Australia wing and a family friend, for a loan.

Driving for the well-heeled success story that is Red Bull Racing, who are already the champion constructors for a second consecutive campaign, means such days seem a world away now. But he has not forgotten.

"It is tough getting opportunities through the junior categories," Webber said. "It is on the driver's head to find the sponsorship and support to get him to drive for those teams. That is the hardest bit to get right."

His subsequent flowering on the Formula One stage has been well-received in the Campese household. "All those people that didn't want to help him in those days, well, bad luck," the former Wallaby was quoted as saying after Webber's first grand prix win.

When Lewis Hamilton spoke this week about having a "bubble" of the right friends and family around you and the peace of mind that provides, it probably struck a chord with Webber. It is not just what you know that brings about success in motorsport.

"You have to have the calibre, then to get the funding and the people that have the same vision as you in place is not always easy," Webber said.

"If you can get the right sort of sponsorship and backing to help improve yourself, you are on your way. It is not easy, but that is the way it has always been."

The fact that Webber leaned on another sportsman for help back then was perhaps no surprise, as he has strong links to both rugby codes.

His father, Alan, was a prop forward in the same union XV as Campese. Webber, himself, was a ballboy for Canberra Raiders, the rugby league team, in his youth.

Before making the trip to Abu Dhabi, he got the chance to take in the league international between England and Australia - "a proper man's game," as he terms it - at Wembley at the weekend. David Furner, the assistant coach of the Kangaroos, used to babysit him.

Having such a broad sporting oeuvre can often be wasted on his championship colleagues, though.

For example, trading stories about the rugby in-house at Red Bull with Sebastian Vettel, a German, is probably a tough gig.

At least he will have been able to escape without too much abuse in the paddock for the capitulation of his compatriots in cricket, another passion of his, this week.

The story about the jail sentences for cricketers convicted of corruption did not permeate many conversations in the F1 fraternity, and Webber insists the concept of fixing is totally alien to his sport, anyway.

"Our sport is so unpredictable, it is not one where you want to be taking those types of thing out there," he said.

"It is a pretty serious sport - not that cricket is not. In terms of the ramifications of things going right and wrong, it is very important everyone has their minds focused on driving their cars 100 per cent on the limit and focusing on what's important, not on trying to make a few bob on the side.

"It is good. If any guys get caught taking the Michael, you are going to get nailed, for sure."

pradley@thenational.ae


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